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UK Supreme Court dismisses case to overturn Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws

08 June 2018
UK Supreme Court dismisses case to overturn Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws

Lady Hale, the first woman to have been appointed to the top role, set out her view in a detailed legal opinion about the state of Northern Ireland's abortion laws this morning.

Despite the failure of the appeal Green Party MLA Clare Bailey welcomed the ruling that the law was not compatible with European human rights laws.

The Supreme Court in the United Kingdom has rejected an attempt to overturn Northern Ireland's strict abortion limits - but a majority of the justices also say the current law is "deeply unsatisfactory" and violates human rights.

On this technicality, they indicated that the court is therefore unable to give an official judgement on the matter.

Decriminalizing abortion in Northern Ireland may come down to a vote Wednesday in London's House of Commons at Westminster.

Jeremy Corbyn has told DUP leader Arlene Foster that Westminster should rule on abortion in Northern Ireland if she fails to form a government. While the case was dismissed, women's groups may have lost the battle but they are winning the war.

Submissions were also made at the Supreme Court by a number of bodies, including seven of the UK's leading reproductive rights organisations, Humanists UK, Bishops of the Roman Catholic Dioceses in Northern Ireland, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and Amnesty International.

Ewart, right, has said she intends to bring the case to Belfast's High Court.

It had asked the court to rule on whether it was unlawful to prohibit abortions that arise from sexual crimes or cases involving "a serious fetal abnormality". "Courts should not make decisions freighted with the individual attitudes of the judiciary".

She added: "It is a matter of fundamental human rights on which, hard though it is, the courts are as well qualified to judge as is the legislature". "A dispassionate analysis of the legal issues was needed".

Another judge (Lady Black) agreed that this was the case in relation to fatal foetal abnormalities, but that it is not possible to reach a conclusion in cases of pregnancy as a result of rape and pregnancy as a result of incest.

The statement goes on to declare that the panel considers it "not possible to conclude in the abstract, in proceedings of the present nature (as distinct from individual applications), that the current law is disproportionate or incompatible with Art 8".

During proceedings in October previous year, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) told the court the current law criminalises "exceptionally vulnerable" women and girls and subjects them to "inhuman and degrading" treatment.

The remaining three judges disagreed.

"As such, the court does not have jurisdiction to make a declaration of incompatibility (with human rights law) in this case", the court said in a summary of the decision.